While we anticipate the restoration of living things outside our windows, we revel in the reality that Jesus restored all things that were broken, winter-bound, and frozen in the icy grip of sin and separation. His resurrection accomplished in one breathtaking stroke a restoration of all that God originally called good.
Though it’s April when you’re reading this, and hopefully turning to spring where you are, I’m writing during the last days of winter. This morning, I got stuck in my driveway three times trying to get my daughter to her train. We have two feet of snow out there (more or less), and I’m longing for the beach I sat on last week in Puerto Rico, doing nothing but listening to the waves and wading out in them to snorkel for yellow-striped fish and elusive sea turtles.
I unashamedly admit I need that kind of restoration in the middle of winter. Winter in Chicago is not for the weak.
Lately, I’ve been seeking restoration more often.
I loved being back at The Glorious Table this month and sharing this message of restoration and encouragement when Easter time isn’t all the joy we expect it to be. Please jump over there to read the rest.
There is an ongoing struggle in our house. My husband sincerely believes that the garbage needs to go out on Thursday night, the night before the garbage truck comes. This is logical to him. He likes logic and, more than logic, he likes to know when things are going to happen. He is a total creature of habit.
I, on the other hand, have a different viewpoint on when the garbage needs to head outside. When it’s full. Or, worse, when it stinks.
Some times of year, it can really stink.
I like my schedules, but if something stinks, it needs to go, regardless of whether the city has scheduled its demise that day or not.
He has habits; I have reactions.
So there is another part of the story we started last week that piques my interest. And my nose.
After Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb, the conversation between him and Martha that we began last week continues.
When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.”Then Jesus wept.The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!”But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance.“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”
Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” (John 11.33-44)
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. That means that there is nothing in our lives that is so dead Jesus cannot resurrect it. Not any big deaths in our lives, and not the small deaths either.
Nothing is too dead for resurrection.
Not financial issues
Not child issues
Not job issues
Not relationship issues
Not sin issues
Not medical issues
—Nothing is too dead for resurrection.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes, we have to bury those things before Jesus can resurrect them. And sometimes? They will stink.
Jesus asks Martha if she believes who he is—the resurrection and the life. His real question, though, is this—Do you trust me? No matter what happens, do you trust me with your brother’s life—and yours?
We cling to those things that need resurrection, don’t we?
We know the marriage needs intervention, but we’re comfortable, at least, in our dysfunction. We don’t want to give our inch. What if he takes a mile? What if the immense work of changing the way we interact doesn’t change anything? What if we open up something that vomits all over us and never, ever goes back into its safe can?
Letting Jesus roll the stones out from in front of our messy marriage will stink, and we know it. But if we don’t bury what’s comfortable, we’ll never know the resurrection to what’s beautiful.
We know our relationship with our kids is tenuous, but listening and learning is hard. Believing the worst of them is impossible. Believing the worst of ourselves is uncomfortable. Learning boundaries and giving freedom threaten to break us in shards.
It stinks when we struggle with those we love most. But if we don’t bury what we have, he can’t raise it to what it could be.
We know we need to change some things for our health, or we need to accept that parts of the way we’d like to look or be are not going to happen this side of resurrection bodies. (I do not want to accept that.) Learning to live with physical limitations (not to mention saggy boobs) stinks.
But if I don’t bury my need to look and feel 35, how is he going to resurrect what is and make it what it can be? (Also, if I don’t bury my need to binge eat macarons and chocolate.)
We know He’s calling us to something more, higher, deeper—in faith, in work, in calling, in hope. But taking the steps toward that means burying what is for the dream of what might be.
It takes courage to let Jesus roll away the stones we’ve carefully placed in front of the smelly messes of our lives.
Oh, but look what can come walking out of the tomb if we let him.
Resurrection. Life. Renewal. Restoration.
All the fullness of life.
Do you know why “This Is Me” became the runaway hit song from Greatest Showman? Because we all know the feeling of hiding our mess. We know what it’s like to be afraid of revealing all that we are, the good, bad, and ugly, to a critical world.
We all long for the resurrection and life, not just in the future, but now, right now, in our mess today. It’s just that sometimes, we don’t long for it enough. At least, not enough to bury what is and let Jesus handle the smell.
Martha looks him in the eye. She knows it’s going to stink. She’s never experienced an actual resurrection before. It’s got to be frightening. She buckles in, nods her head, and says, “Yes, Lord. I believe.”
Our parents dutifully sent my sister (8) and me off to Sunday school every week (well, semi-dutifully) with a quarter in our right fist and shiny shoes on our feet to see what we could learn. We didn’t go to the church service afterward, and no one came with us. I have only hazy memories of a blue flannel Jesus and some woman telling me he was good.
One afternoon, my sister and I rode our bicycles in circles around the garage, and she told me all about the things she had learned—how Jesus loved her and died for her and rose again.
I told her it was all baloney.
I didn’t believe a word of it. I have no idea how I was so certain of that at six, but I suspect that I figured my parents must not really have believed or they would have gone with us. Also, blue flannel Jesus was terribly boring. Also, I probably didn’t like that my big sister knew more than I did.
It all seemed pretty clear at six.
Who knew that, long after I’d quit walking up the street to that little Presbyterian church, God had plans to capture me with his love anyway? Little atheists don’t know as much as they think.
Last year, we explored herea series of questions God asks. Today, because Easter and all. we’re going to look at a seemingly straightforward one:
Do you believe this?
Backstory: Jesus receives a message that his dear friend, Lazarus, is deathly ill. His sisters Martha and Mary, also his dear friends, are looking for him to come set things right. They trust him to show up big for them—but he doesn’t. In fact, Jesus chooses to wait a few days before setting off to see his friend—days he knows are precious.
When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house.Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” (John 11.17-27)
I’ve always loved this story, because it displays raw emotion mixed with real faith. Martha grieves—real grief, real tears. Real terror, because with her brother gone, who was going to take care of her and her sister? She knew what happened to two young women alone in that world. Her emotions ran out of her like spring rain swelling a waterfall. She is hurt, scared, grief-stricken, and confused.
Confused that the one she knew could help her didn’t come. She knew it—look at her words.
“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
She is too painfully aware that Jesus could have chosen to come, and she might not be in this despair. She is aware of something too many of the disciples don’t seem to be. Jesus is Lord of life and death itself.
She knows this.
This is why her response is so incredible to me. She knows he could have, she knows he didn’t, but she still chooses to believe.
Jesus’ response is perfect.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
Do you believe this?
Jesus could not ask this question at a worse time. This is not a philosophical question for Martha. Everything is in her heart and her eyes. Her world is shattered. If there is a resurrection and a life, and if this man is in charge of it, it has to mean more in this moment than an “I’ll fly away” Hallmark special effect someday in the clouds.
It has to mean something now.
Why? Because he asks her this question before he does anything.
Her brother has not yet been raised from the dead. Jesus has shown no hurry to do so, or apparent interest. Yet he’s asking her if she believes right now, in her grief, in her heartache and horror, before she ever sees her brother unwind those graveclothes from around his face.
She’s known him for years. This family has the ease of old friends. The question is, does she really know him? Does she know him well enough? Has she studied his life, looked at his heart, listened to his words enough to really believe, even in this impossible moment?
That’s what he asks all of us, isn’t it? Have you studied me? Not about me, but me? Have you learned my heartbeat? Do you know what makes me joyful and what gives me sorrow? Do you understand what I am capable of? If you do, do you believe I am the resurrection and the life?
Now. Before I do anything in your life to prove it.
He’s asking her for a personal trust. He wants a relationship that can weather the storms ahead. He needs Martha to believe him no matter what happens, not for him, but for her.
If Lazarus had remained dead—if Jesus had chosen not to raise hm back to life—would Martha’s answer have been the same?
“Yes, Lord. I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”
Blessed is she who has not seen and yet believes.
Even when we don’t see, do we know enough of who he is to believe?
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the raising up.
I am the Not Dead.
I am death you don’t win.
I am the death where is your sting?
I am the “no one can stop me from raising myself or you.” Raising you to and from all manner of things. If you believe before you see.
That’s been hard for some of us in this season. With news of people murdered while worshiping, children slaughtered while learning, white supremacists marching, and babies stolen from their terrified parents, it’s just hard some days to remind myself that I follow a God who proved there is no situation he cannot resurrect.
But I do believe this.
In fact, in light of the insanity that surrounds us, believing he is in control of all things not being dead is the only theology that makes any sense at all. (And my friend, we all have theology. It doesn’t matter if we believe Jesus is baloney—we still have one.)
Unlike my six-year-old self, I do believe this. It’s all there is to believe in a world that needs hope. It’s the only thing that can bring our deaths out of the grave and unwrap them before our eyes.
During this series on young voices in the church (which will soon be interrupted by the most wonderful time of the year, Good Friday and Easter), I want to rerun some work I did with a very familiar young voice—my middle child. Here is one of our conversations on the topic of intergenerational faith. I loved it. I hope you do.
What is the church?
Is it local or global? Made up of a stable body or fluid? Can a few people in a living room be considered the church, or is it more than that? At what point does the “church” become the “Church”? And which deserves our loyalty, if either?
Do Millennials and Boomers really have completely different answers to these questions? As “they” are leaving “our” churches, or as “they” are shutting “us” out, can we worship in one body whose parts we all recognize? Or are the current battle lines merely going to make a corpse of that body?
In our very random quest to answer these questions, we somehow landed on a warfare metaphor. This does not mean we believe the generation are at war. At least, we hope not. Nevertheless, the metaphor gives some good insight into what we might be doing wrong we we try to do church together.
The Fear of Death
Jill: Are our two generations really at war when it comes to the church? In the seeming battle to determine who “owns” the church and who will lead it, how do you see your generation responding?
Emily: Not a war, but let’s run with that metaphor.
We Millennials know that sometimes abandoning a battle is another way of winning. Like that story they tell in history class about how Russia killed Germany’s plans to invade simply by retreating and burning everything in Germany’s path.
We are Russia. You Boomers are Germany. You may think, as you gain more traction and pass more old-fashioned laws, that you are winning. But we aren’t leaving behind anyone or anything for you to build on.
Eventually, your resources will run out. And then we’ll be back to reclaim our place, free of your restraints and rules. High ground isn’t much good without a shelter to keep out the wind. Moral superiority won’t help build a fire.
So stop fighting us. We’re younger, stronger, and larger. There’s no way you could win this if it became an all out antagonistic fight. Diplomacy. Recognition that we are a source of power. These are the new trades of war.
Jill: Actually, I think traditional Boomer leadership is more like the UK than Germany. We already occupy the territory; we’re not out to conquer it. But we will bloody well (See? We’re British here) hold that ground and not back down, should any stronger forces try to storm the gates.
We will bar the gates and wait you out for as long as it takes. Yes, we will grow old and grey inside our churches, but we will still insist it is your loss because you would not cooperate.
Unfortunately, the churches that do that Will. Die.
How can we pick one or two verses out of the overarching story of God and claim we follow God’s purpose?
No Enemies Here
What we’re missing is that if you are Russia, you are our allies. (At least, if we maintain the WWII history here. One must suspend disbelief of all history since then.) You’re not our enemy.
You don’t need our stupid little island; you’ve got access to an entire Eurasian landmass if you retreat and do your own thing. And one day, those of us who are left will come out from behind our walls and discover that there is no longer anyone there. That’s my little world conquerors metaphor, there.
Emily: An excellent metaphor. Way to run with it. It’s a similar idea with dystopian novels–in almost every novel is a world whose leaders are corrupt and horrific–-a position of power that was often set in place as a means by which to counteract a specific threat.
Yet years after the threat is extinguished, the extinguishers are still in power, power has inevitably corrupted them, and everyone just deals with it because it’s all they can remember and anyone who “remembers” differently disappears.
Now, I’m not saying we’re living in the apocalypse. I’m not even saying it’s coming this week. I have no idea when it’s coming. (No one has any idea, actually.) But we need to recognize that our actions will always push the world in one of two directions ( I am loathe to use the pendulum simile, but there it vaguely is), and sometimes it’s really difficult to be certain that the action we choose really will push that pendulum the direction we were expecting it to.
Discipleship as a Missing Link
Jill: “We Millennials know that sometimes abandoning a battle is another way of winning. We aren’t leaving behind anyone or anything for you to build on.”
It sounds like your strategy is to withdraw and create your own version of church, where the judgment and antagonism you often feel doesn’t have to be faced. You’re going to “unfriend” the Boomer church so you no longer have to deal with their drama-filled statuses. In fact, that’s what the church sees happening.
That’s a key we Boomers need to grasp. We know all the data about 60-75% of Millennials leaving the church. But often, we dismiss that data with the glib assurance that you will behave as we did. You will return once you start to settle down and have kids. You’ll yearn for the security of a church and a belief system that stands through the ages. And brings you casseroles. That’s our assumption, because that’s what we did. Except in your case, it will be gluten free, vegan, locally sourced casseroles.
Emily: Oddly, in our world of multi-accepted truths, it’s becoming harder and harder to be Christian and to belong to The Church. This is only partially because of the stigma attached to The Church.
The other part is–-in a catch-22–-because going to church is no longer the norm, we therefore need to know what we’re doing. We no longer have the excuse that the service is in Latin. Science and Christianity have declared a centuries old war on each other and I’m not even sure who started it.
We need to know our faith in order for us to be able to defend it. And, for better or for worse, that is just too difficult/time-consuming/pointless a journey for a lot of people. Those of us who are still in the church are stronger for it, but most days we’re as much at a loss as you guys are about how to get the rest of the gang interested in working for their parents’ faith.
We don’t want to be discipled into knowing about God. We want to be discipled into knowing him.
Jill: So part of the reason you’re leaving is that you haven’t been discipled to know what you believe. You can’t commit to “church” because you have to know and believe in what you’re getting yourself into to be comfortable jumping in. That’s fair.
But your inherent skepticism, coupled with that technology-induced immediate gratification thing, don’t allow for “knowing” anything. That makes our job a bit rougher.
Emily: But it’s not our fate to remain blind. We allow ourselves to be blind by repeating actions and ignoring consequences, without taking time to study and learn God.
How can we buy a present for a friend when we don’t even know what kind of coffee she likes? How can we know what kind of getaway weekend our parents might appreciate if we don’t listen to their interests and get involved in their lives?
How can we pick one or two verses out of the overarching story of God and claim we follow God’s purpose?
We don’t want to be discipled into knowing about God. We want to be discipled into knowing him. Then, we might stay and find somme common ground.
In this series on young voices, I am blessed to have Hannah Pannell with her consideration of church and her generation. I love it! Don’t tell me the young have no depth of theology. This woman knows exactly why she needs her community, and she knows it fromreliance on scripture. Read on and be blessed.
After graduating from high school, I attended a large Christian university. I quickly found myself involved at a local church. Girls on my floor often remarked that finding a church that felt right was difficult. After a year, many of my friends were still attending a different church every Sunday.
Eventually, someone asked me how I had found a church that felt like home. My answer was simple: I hadn’t. My church was not a perfect fit for me, nor did it immediately feel like home. I had connections, but mostly I just kept showing up.
For the first year, I went to nearly every service and event the church offered as I tried to get to know people. By the time I graduated, my dearest friends were people from my church small group. We prayed together, cried together, forgave each other, and loved one another.
Don’t get me wrong–my time at that church was anything but easy. I made mistakes, which made community with people I had hurt and been hurt by incredibly difficult. Many Sundays I sat in my car and cried before going in, but I went in anyway. My decision to stick with a church doesn’t make me any holier, or even right, but it did teach me a lot about God’s people and this gathering we call church.
My generation is cited as being nearly non-existent in the church, and as seeing the largest decline of all demographics. I seem to be an anomaly. Although I’m still in my early twenties, the church and I have been through a lot. My parents are church planters. I have had a backstage view of ministry. I have seen the ugly, the extraordinary, the hard, and the mundane. I have never walked away, though, and I love the local church more deeply today than ever.
Here’s why this millennial is sticking it out:
God expects us to be part of a local body of believers. Our salvation in no way hinges on church involvement, but our sanctification does. I know at times great hurt and confusion may necessitate a break from the church. In no way do I want to discount the difficulty of finding a good church, but sometimes we are the problem, not the church.
No church is perfect and neither are we. So take a break, do some digging and healing, and then get back in the game. Many millennials claim the global body of Christ as their church. The kingdom is a powerful group of believers, but it does not replace living with other believers in love and accountability.
Instead, God call us to “not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25 NIV). Nearly every great act of God in Scripture takes place within the context of believers gathering together. After all, God promises, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20 NIV)
At the 2016 Passion Conference, pastor Louie Giglio called attending and serving in the local church a “radical act of defiance.” He introduced sixty thousand young people to the idea of radically defying the low expectations society has set for us. There’s always been some rebel in this pastor’s daughter, so his words clicked for me.
As a generation, we like to swim against the current. Our rebelliousness can fuel cynicism, or we can defy the odds and be the generation that reawakens the church. You lose credibility critiquing from the sidelines. However, when you’re a key player, people listen to you.
Perhaps if we want to see our churches changed from the inside out, we need to be inside. Maybe millennials need to write a few less open letters to the church and instead need to build credibility by filling seats each Sunday and serving throughout the week. If we want to influence the heartbeat of the church, we have to be part of it.
If we’re honest, church isn’t really about us. Discipleship is critical, but without evangelism, there are no disciples. Our churches must insist on an outward focus. We cannot expect the people who most need us to show up at our doors each Sunday. Instead, we must go to them. We have to meet them where they are and infuse hope into their lives. Then we invite them in, we save them a seat, we hold their hands.
Relationships allow us to practice love, accountability, forgiveness, and reconciliation. If we stick it out long enough and let the Lord work, relationships are mended and disagreements settled because we share a common bond and mission. Walking away when things get tough doesn’t allow for reconciliation. Perhaps this is why Scripture calls the church the bride of Christ. Working out our relationship with the church mirrors a marriage relationship. We miss the growth if we walk away.
At its best, the church is a bunch of messed-up sinners. With all of our broken, jagged edges, we inevitably cut each other deeply at times. This is the cost of doing life with broken people.
Hannah Pannell is a wonderer and a wanderer. She is a southern-speakin’, Jesus-lovin’ coffee consumer who writes about life, whether pretty or messy (usually leaning toward messy). She is the daughter of two amazing, brave, church planting Jesus followers, the sister of an amazing worship pastor, and a lover of Jesus. She blogs at thissweetlybrokenlife.com.